Summit focuses on growing agritourism
Updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 8:51 AM
By KELSEY THALHOFER
For the Capital Press
Farmers and agritourism business owners will gather to swap knowledge and improve business at the first Oregon Agritourism Summit on Nov. 30.
The summit, called "Getting to Yes for Agritourism business development," will run 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University. Speakers from both agricultural and public policy backgrounds will focus on agritourism issues, such as state and county regulations, as well as techniques to help owners market and grow their business.
"We hope to begin to understand what the barriers and needs are for agritourism business owners in Oregon," Melissa Fery, one of the summit's organizers, said.
The event includes lunch and costs $25. Registration may be completed on the OSU Extension calendar website.
Fery said one goal of the November summit is to identify the major issues facing agribusiness owners and to communicate these issues to Oregon legislators and policymakers at a second summit in March. Eventually, she said, "we're looking to make it a combined annual networking event between policymakers, farmers and ranchers."
Fery said agritourism, which can include everything from pumpkin patch visits to weekend farm stays, can benefit both farmers and visitors. "It's an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to diversify their income stream and for the public to learn from them," she said.
Some farmers, such as Scottie Jones of Leaping Lamb Farm Stay in Alsea, Ore., have found their agritourism businesses to be more profitable than their farm.
Jones quickly realized that she needed a way to supplement her farm's sheep and hay income after she and her husband, Greg, began farming nine years ago.
"We were quite naïve coming into this," Jones said. "We thought the sheep and the hay would pay for the farm, but that wasn't happening at all."
Jones had become familiar with the farm stay concept while living in Europe for three years in her twenties, and in 2006 she applied for a Benton County conditional use permit to use the cabin near her home for guests. She now hosts visitors from across the country year-round and her guests enjoy feeding lambs, picking fruits and vegetables and helping with chores around the farm.
She said her farm stay has grown by 20 percent every year, even through the recession, and has provided steady income when her other commodities have suffered. "The price of lamb is half of what it was last year," Jones said. "If I didn't have the farm stay, we would be in the hole big time."
Jones, who is also one of the Oregon summit's organizers, has attended agritourism gatherings in other states and was a driving force behind bringing this event to Oregon. "I knew we had all these people doing agritourism, and yet Oregon hadn't done anything," Jones said. "It's the right time and the right place."
She has already created a website called "Farm Stay U.S.," where farmers post photos and information about their farm stays to draw potential visitors. Jones has enjoyed networking with farmers on the site, but looks forward to working with local farm stay owners in person at the summit.
By collaborating with fellow agritourism business owners, Jones hopes Oregon farmers can learn how to navigate liability and regulatory laws, and how to run a better business. She'll lead a hospitality workshop at the summit, and she said that even small details such as comfortable sheets and a clean room can bring customers back year after year for a vacation that's not only fun and relaxing for families, but important for farmers.
"There is no family farm anymore for most of us," she said. "This is a great opportunity for farmers; we're training the next generation."